EA’s Careful Approach To Marketing

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Marketing for a video game can be a tricky business, especially if there’s something happening with the world that companies have to tiptoe around so that it has no correlation with its product. Chris Bruzzo, the chief marketing officer who hopped on board Electronic Arts last year from Starbucks, knows this well, and explained in an interview with GamesIndustry International how, in a way, traditional marketing has “come apart.”

One example of this was the marketing with this year’s earlier release Battlefield: Hardline, which was coming out on the heels of the Ferguson incident, where a white police officer shot an unarmed black 18-year old. “We were very sensitive to that,” Bruzzo said. “We spent time to make sure we understood what was happening in the environment. But while being sensitive to not wanting to draw on that or capitalize on it in any way, we also really came to the conclusion that most entertainment companies have to come to, which is that entertainment is a different part of the human experience. And while it might instruct us on things that are happening in other parts of our lives, it exists to entertain. Just like TV shows or movies that are a long time in production, those stories about crime, or difficult experiences in the world, those are going to continue to be important stories that people love to engage in. We don’t actually suggest there’s much about Battlefield: Hardline that has a lot of relevancy to things that are happening in Ferguson or places like that.”

There are situations where cultural relevancy can be used with advertising games, such as with the recently announced Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, which will debut next year. While the game didn’t exactly make big bucks for EA, it has been fondly appreciated by fans. “When I think about how to invite people into the story, I really encourage our teams to start in a really positive place,” Bruzzo said. “That means asking, ‘What’s great about Mirror’s Edge What made it great the first time What are we carrying through, and how is it contemporary now ‘ Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst has its own story to tell, and it’s updated. It’s touching on themes that are pretty relevant today. That opening line in the trailer — ‘What does it mean to freely give away your privacy ‘ — couldn’t be more at the center of our digitally engaged everywhere experience that we’re having today.”

EA has also been careful with the advertising of the forthcoming sports game FIFA 16, concentrating more on the sports action and less on the recent scandals surrounding the league. “For us, we’re very focused on the game, and on the experience we’re creating for players in the game,” Bruzzo said. “That’s true in the case of Battlefield Hardline, and absolutely true in the case of FIFA. How do we bring the actual sport the athletes play to life in a way that connects with people ” (Side note: EA took a similar stance alongside its then golfing partner Tiger Woods, amidst certain controversies surround him. The two have since broken apart, and Rory McIlroy has been signed as the cover star of the new golf game, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, which hits store shelves today.)

But according to Bruzzo, the whole “it’s in the game” mantra of sports titles is something that customers have been connecting to more, focusing more on the sports action than what happens off the field. “If you ask young people who play Madden NFL today, a lot of them don’t know who John Madden is,” Bruzzo said. “That’s a crystal clear example where the game has completely transcended where it started and the personality of Madden. The same is true for FIFA. If you ask people who play FIFA 15 this year, when you say FIFA to them, they’re as likely to be talking about the [video] game. So I do think consumers understand the fiction here. And it’s part of the authenticity of the entertainment. We’re going to create this fictionalized environment and you’re going to get to pay. And that’s pretty fundamentally different. It is challenging though when you pick a single endorser. That does make things a little more challenging. And yet, at times it’s totally the right thing to do because it helps to bring authenticity to the game.”

Tying back in to marketing, Bruzzo explains that he’s seen a lot of changes, mainly with the time he was vice president of marketing and public relations for Amazon, as well as serving as Starbucks’ digital strategy expert. “It’s amazing,” Bruzzo said. “‘What is marketing ‘ is really an open question today. I kind of feel that marketing has come apart. It is no longer a brand with some propaganda pushing a message one way to a target audience. In many ways, it really has been coming apart for a while. It includes direct engagement with players and customers through social channels. It includes analytics. It continues to include creative. But today, the nature of marketing has come apart so it can get closer to the end recipient, the player and the product. And as a result, we can have a much more iterative relationship, a dialogue, even as games are being made.”

However, strides are being made with certain campaigns for games, like the more personable approach taken with last year’s Madden NFL 15, featuring a viral campaign with stars Kevin Hart and Dave Franco. “There are things about how you market that game that are fundamentally different than how you’d market a Battlefield or a Battlefront,” Bruzzo said. “In this industry, we have these long lead times, and for a lot of good reasons, players want to deconstruct what the game’s going to be and do a lot of comparisons. How many maps How many modes How many hours of play I think it’s fascinating that in the discussion about and reaction to Unravel, nobody’s asking any of those questions. It’s fundamentally a different construct. It’s another kind of story that doesn’t fall into the same [category].”

You can read the full interview here.

Microsoft HoloLens Transforms The Way We Learn

Since announcing their ground-breaking mixed reality device, the team behind the Microsoft HoloLens has been hard at work exploring the possibilities of holographic computing. Through a partnership with Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Microsoft has created a working demo that shows how HoloLens could be used to transform the way we teach anatomy and prepare future generations of doctors.

“By creating simulations with the HoloLens that lets students have an experience where they can fail – that would be the best way to learn because really we don’t allow people to fail too much in real life medicine,” said Dr. Neil Mehta of Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner College of Medicine.

On July 6, 2015, Microsoft announced the launch of the Microsoft HoloLens academic research grant program, which offers awards of up to $100,000 towards the development of holographic applications for education.


Microsoft Rebrands Music, Video For Windows 10

With Windows 10, Microsoft has a number of new features in mind to entice both long-time users and newcomers, including a variety of popular first-party apps, as well as a forthcoming Minecraft beta, which was announced this past weekend at the Minecon event in London. However, it’s also rebranding its media channels, in an effort to focus more on a general experience.

As reported by the company on its official blog page, Microsoft has opted to rename both its Xbox Music and Xbox Video brands, in an effort to be more mainstream. From hereon in, Xbox Music will now be known as the Groove service, while Xbox Video will become simply Movies & TV.

Regarding the Groove service, the company said in its blog, “Our fans asked for faster ways to access the music they love – quickly, efficiently and on their favorite devices. And for that, we’re proud to introduce the evolution of our current Xbox Music experience, now titled Groove, with new features we think you’re going to love. Groove describes what people feel and do with music, and is more intuitive for our Windows 10 customers on what they’ll find with the app.”

The Groove app will provide an all-new look to Xbox’s music services, along with access to OneDrive integration, so that songs can be uploaded into the cloud and shared amongst a number of devices, including Xbox game consoles. The company has also begun offering a Groove Music Pass subscription, Microsoft’s own ad-free premium music service, for $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year – no doubt wanting to be a competitor to the recently launched Apple Music.

The Groove service already offers access to 40 million tracks, according to the company, and also allows users to build custom radio stations, along the same lines as Pandora and Spotify.

As for Videos & TV, a new exploration feature will be introduced, allowing users to import personal videos from their collection, as well as shop for new movies and television shows through the Windows Store. Additional file formats are set to be supported as well, including .MKV.

Whether these services will be a success has yet to be seen, as Windows 10 is still going through a few touch-ups. However, it appears that Microsoft is gearing up for a more casual audience – even though the Xbox name will still clearly stick with the company as it launches a number of hit games for the Xbox One console this fall, including Forza Motorsport 6 and Halo 5: Guardians.

Why Major Networks Are Bringing Their Shows To Facebook

With all the popularity surrounding online programmers like Netflix, YouTube and, as of late, Facebook, some TV networks may be showing signs of concern in regards to waning audiences. However, some have figured out a more creative solution – why not work with online broadcasters to generate more hype for programming

That’s exactly what HBO and Amazon have done as of late, “sampling” some of its latest series through Facebook with offers of full episodes and clips. Digiday recently reported on this new business practice, which seems to be playing off pretty well.

Last month, Amazon premiered the debut episode of its new series Catastrophe through Facebook, which can be found on its official page. HBO followed suit a week later with full episodes of two of its newest series, including Ballers featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the political comedy The Brink, featuring Tim Robbins and Jack Black.

TV networks have advertised online before, even offering exclusive programming that ties in with original shows. But with “sampling,” a new kind of buzz can be built around premiering shows, possibly drawing in more audience members with a “taste of what’s to come,” as it were.

At one point, YouTube was the ideal partner for this practice, but with Facebook’s recent push into video – and its teaming up with a number of companies and programmers in the process – a new competitor could be on the rise.

“Right now, the world of video content distribution is right on the edge of total chaos,” said James Nail, principal analyst for Forrester Research. He explained that a two-minute clip of a show just doesn’t cut it anymore, and more exposure of a program is needed to hook potential audience.

It’s not just a draw for television programming, either. The likes of Ballers and The Brink could easily attract viewers to HBO’s separate Now service, which enables viewers to tune in to programming for a low monthly fee, without the need for a cable connection. (Of course, cable viewers don’t hurt either, since HBO is still a primary service on Xfinity and DirecTV.)

Such a practice could easily increase interest in digital video services, along with regular programming. “Networks need to evolve at a pace that will find consumers as quickly as their behaviors change,” said Jim Marsh, vice president of digital and social media for HBO. “Digital sampling is an effective way for us to introduce our programming to our current and potential subscribers. Ultimately, we’re trying to create new fans.”

Brannon added, “It’s part of an overall strategy to include households that are excluded. Get people hooked and get people subscribing. I don’t think it’s going to result in a heck of a lot of pay-TV adoption. It’s a vehicle for OTT adoption.”

With Facebook’s recent expansion of video services, it could easily be as competitive as YouTube on this front. “We are always looking for innovative ways to work with our partners, and in this case, we had a new opportunity to work with Facebook to leverage the massive reach of their platform,” said Marsh. “Facebook has made some significant changes to their video capabilities in recent months, which made it possible for us to do this.”

Facebook also seems to have better reach when it comes to individual pieces of content. “The thing that (Facebook) offers that YouTube doesn’t is an (algorithmic) feed that people check in on multiple times a day,” said Nail. “YouTube, it’s still, ‘Gee, I’ve got to go to YouTube and search for stuff and maybe I’ll stumble onto something new.'”

Marsh put it more into business terms. “The digital video ecosystem is so interconnected that there is no single best way to get exposure. It’s important that we work closely with all of our partners to reach people on multiple fronts.”

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Ballers has managed to accumulate 5.5 million views since its debut, while The Brink is nearing 900,000 viewers. (That’s mostly due to the popularity of Johnson, who helped drive Furious 7 and San Andreas to big box-office numbers this year.)

Consumers who didn’t catch the episodes, however, will still be able to do so for a few weeks. “Facebook is an incredibly important strategic partner of ours, and we have a history of collaborating in innovative ways, including the Game of Thrones red carpet live stream earlier this year,” said Marsh.

However, there are no plans to introduce other episodes to other social video platforms…at least, “at this time,” according to Marsh.

‘Minecraft’ Comes To Life To Promote ‘Minecraft: Story Mode’

Minecon 2015, which took place this weekend in London, was a big hit for fans of the popular Microsoft-owned Minecraft franchise, whether it was riding around on a specially built ride, taking part in a number of panels or, of course, playing the game to great content.

However, the show had its fair share of surprises, including one that’s going to give the series a piece of narrative for the first time – through the forthcoming Telltale Games episodic series Minecraft: Story Mode.

The game will break away from the open-world presentation that the original Minecraft has become known for, instead focusing on a series of characters as they attempt to save the world from a diabolically evil force. Leading the pack is Jesse, a new hero that will take the place of the normal Minecraft star, Steve.

Mojang posted the story description below, and it’s definitely a change of pace from the usual Minecraft fare:

“Players will control protagonist Jesse throughout the season, as portrayed by actor Patton Oswalt. Jesse and his group of friends revere the legendary Order of the Stone; four adventurers who slayed an Ender Dragon. The Order are the very best at what they do: Warrior, Redstone Engineer, Griefer, and Architect. While at EnderCon, Jesse and his friends discover that something is wrong… something dreadful. Terror is unleashed, and they must set out on a journey to find The Order of the Stone if they are to save their world from oblivion.”

A story may be a shock to the system for some Minecraft fans, but there’s no doubt that it fits right in with what Telltale Games has been producing as of late, including other episodic titles like Tales From the Borderlands, Game of Thrones (based on the HBO series) and The Walking Dead, among others.

Plus, Telltale has gone to great lengths to give Minecraft: Story Mode distinctive voices, hiring on a number of popular actors to fill the roles. Jesse will be played by comedian/actor Patton Oswalt, while others, like Brian Poeshn, Ashley Johnson, Martha Plimpton, Corey Feldman, Billy West and Paul Reubens will be included as well – a far cry from the usual speechless Minecraft setting.

“We’ve worked closely with the amazing team at Mojang to ensure this story is a natural fit for the Minecraft world fans already know and love,” said Kevin Bruner, CEO and co-founder of Telltale Games. “As Jesse, players will steer their own path through a tale of adventure and survival; all brought to life by an all-star cast. Through Telltale’s choice-based gameplay and a story spanning from the Nether to the Farlands, the End, and beyond, we can’t wait for fans to experience this new take on the beloved world of Minecraft.”

“The interactive storytellers at Telltale are giving players the chance to explore their own unique interpretation of the Minecraft universe,” said Owen Hill, Chief Word Officer at Mojang. “They’ve crafted a story that follows the logic of Minecraft, but still manages to feel original. It’s actually pretty funny too. And the pig is adorable. We’re super excited about players digging deeper into the world of Minecraft: Story Mode later this year.”

Whether the game will be a success is unknown, as it will definitely take more of a Telltale “choose your own adventure” style of approach instead of the open-world “build your own world” mantra that Minecraft has become known for. However, it should be an entertaining little jaunt into the series universe, with the superb storytelling style that Telltale has become known for over the years.

The game will release later this year for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, and mobile devices. The debut trailer is below, and really sets the tone for just how different – but fun – this new adventure will be.

Twitch And Xbox Team Up For Minecon

People certainly love Minecraft. How could they not It celebrates the ability to create (and destroy) terrain on a wide-open scale, while at the same time enabling players to work together through co-op. The game has already proven to be an immense best seller, and, for a few years running, it’s gotten its own convention where Minecraft-ites get together and discuss everything about the game. Now, the world will be able to see what it’s all about.

Microsoft, in partnership with the streaming channel Twitch, has announced that Minecon, which takes place this weekend in London, will be live streamed across four channels all weekend long. This includes a variety of events from the show, including Minecraft related panels, gameplay sessions, keynote speeches, building and costume contests, and exhibits.

The events will be broken across four different channels, as follows:

First there’s the main Minecon channel, where most of the events will take place. Mojang’s official Twitch channel will also take part, along with specialized channels that will focus on the main stage and the main panel room.

However, there’s a catch. Since the event takes place in London, the show will be getting an early start for those viewing here in the United States. Twitch posted the schedule, which is as follows:


2:00am PT Streams Live

2:30am PT – 3:30am PT – Opening Ceremony (Main Stream and Stage Stream)

3:30am PT – 11:00amPT – Day content from Studio, Main Stage and Panel rooms throughout the day (all streams)

11:30am PT – 8:30pm PT – Re-stream of content from the day for US audience (all streams)


2:00am PT Streams Live

2:45am PT – 3:00am PT – Welcome! (Main Stream)

3:00am PT – 9:00am PT – Day content from Studio, Main Stage and Panel rooms throughout the day (all streams)

9:00am PT – 10:00am PT – Closing Ceremony

10:30am PT – 05:30pm PT – Re-stream of content from the day for US audience (all streams)

it may be a bit demanding for true Minecraft fans, but Minecon presents a unique opportunity to see what goes on at a themed convention such as this, while also getting inside the heads of the developers that help put the multi-million selling game together to begin with. The re-streaming opportunity will also enable users to see what they missed live – in case they don’t feel like being an early riser.

It also presents another key opportunity for Twitch to appeal to its growing game audience, as it’s done in the past with live tournaments and special gameplay sessions, including ones with sponsors like Coke.

It’s looking like a true party for Minecraft-ers this weekend – and yes, that includes those who love the Creepers.

Facebook Isn’t Done With Monetizing Video Yet

YouTube may have the video monetization game down, but that doesn’t mean that Facebook isn’t ready to play.

Per this report from Re/code, Facebook is working out a new program where sponsors like the NBA, Fox Sports and Funny or Die will be able to place ads alongside videos put together by creators. As such, a revenue split will be introduced, where said creators can make money via “suggested content.”

This is the first time that Facebook is diving into the ad-revenue based video market, putting it in direct competition with YouTube. With it, Facebook hopes to garner some of  the millions that Google’s video-based site makes with ads on its site, with a similar revenue split between creator and company – 55 percent to 45 percent.

Facebook, however, believes it could have a better program in place when it comes to finding video content, as there will be fewer search terms – and no requirement to be following a certain page to view this content.

“A lot of (our partners) have said this will be a big motivation to start publishing a lot more video content to Facebook,” said Dan Rose, vice president of partnerships for Facebook, speaking with Re/code. “That’s exactly what we’re hoping for.”

The company has already boasted big daily viewing numbers for its site, with over four billion and counting on a daily basis. “Partners say they’d publish a lot more if they could get benefit of distribution but also make money,” Rose added, speaking with Forbes.

Such a deal would be beneficial all around – Facebook would attract more creators, thus getting more attention from advertisers, thus creating a huge revenue flow that benefits all parties.

Facebook added this regarding the testing of the program, per MarketingLand: “We’re running a new suggested videos test, which helps people discover more videos similar to the ones they enjoy. Within suggested videos, we will be running a monetization test where we will show feed-style video ads and share revenue with a group of media companies and video creators.”

It’s too soon to tell just how successful the video program will be – it won’t launch nationwide until this fall – but advertisers and creators are sure to keep a close eye on the results. YouTube as well, for that matter.

Capturing The Fantastical Tone And Humor In The New ‘King’s Quest’

The next chapter of King’s Quest, called A Knight To Remember, is coming July 28 for PC, PS4, and PS3, with Xbox One and Xbox 360 being released the following day, July 29. We met up with producer and VP at The Odd Gentlemen, Lindsey Rostal, to talk about the mechanics, excitement and promotion of the game while at E3.

“A lot of people didn’t grow up playing King’s Quest, or a lot of people did– we want to give people an entry point in how they can do that,” said Rostal.


Mark Zuckerberg: Here’s Why Facebook Invests In VR

There’s no question that Facebook is a powerful tool in the world of social media, but the company has also been expanding into other areas, with a growing interest in artificial intelligence and virtual reality. One look at its $2 billion deal with Oculus VR indicates that it’s quite serious about this research, too. But one question has always lingered: “Why ”

During a recent Q & A with users of the social network, Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was happy to answer, as reported by VentureBeat. When asked about the interest in these fields by user Jenni Moore from Ireland, he responded with the following:

“We’re working on AI because we think more intelligent services will be much more useful for you to use. For example, if we had computers that could understand the meaning of the posts in News Feed and show you more things you’re interested in, that would be pretty amazing. Similarly, if we could build computers that could understand what’s in an image and could tell a blind person who otherwise couldn’t see that image, that would be pretty amazing as well. This is all within our reach and I hope we can deliver it in the next 10 years.”

The company has been hiring a number of researchers to look into work on artificial intelligence, with Yann LeCun heading up its own Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research unit. With this team, a number of technologies are being worked on to analyze videos, answer questions, identify objects and people in images, and generate image samples. Even with competition from Google and Microsoft, Facebook is heavily interested in the subject.

But then there’s virtual reality, tying back in with Facebook’s purchase of Oculus tech, to which Zuckerberg was quick to respond:

“First, we’re working on spreading internet access around the world through Internet.org. This is the most basic tool people need to get the benefits of the internet — jobs, education, communication, etc. Today, almost 2/3 of the world has no internet access. In the next 10 years, Internet.org has the potential to help connect hundreds of millions or billions of people who do not have access to the internet today.

“As a side point, research has found that for every 10 people who gain access to the internet, about 1 person is raised out of poverty. So if we can connect the 4 billion people in the world who are unconnected, we can potentially raise 400 million people out of poverty. That’s perhaps one of the greatest things we can do in the world.

“Third, we’re working on VR because I think it’s the next major computing and communication platform after phones. In the future we’ll probably still carry phones in our pockets, but I think we’ll also have glasses on our faces that can help us out throughout the day and give us the ability to share our experiences with those we love in completely immersive and new ways that aren’t possible today.”

More of Zuckerberg’s responses to user questions can be found here. There’s no word on when the artificial intelligence initiative will take place, but the Oculus Rift is currently set for an early 2016 release to retail. No price has been given just yet.

Hyundai Becomes Official Auto Sponsor Of The NFL

The team at Hyundai Motor America have scored quite the interception as of late – it’s taken General Motors’ place as the official automobile sponsor of the National Football League.

Per a report from Mediapost, Hyundai has signed on as the official sponsor of the league, giving it full use of NFL trademarks across its varied marketing channels, including branded content, advertising and promotional materials. There’s no word on just how much Hyundai is spending on the deal, but General Motors paid $25 million per year as part of its deal, so a similar figure is likely.

With this deal, Hyundai will keep track of the League over the course of the year – even after the Super Bowl – with extensive activity that also includes the NFL Combine, the NFL Draft and the NFL Kickoff party to begin the forthcoming season. Promotional vehicles will also be introduced at a number of NFL-based events, including the Super Bowl.

“Sports has worked well for us,” said Dave Zukowski, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America about the deal. “This gives us the ability to do a lot of things all year. It means we have a broad plan, with branded content and promotional materials.”

The company will also take advantage of the huge Super Bowl event with a number of activities and promotions, since it gets so much attention from millions of viewers every year, despite who’s playing. However, it’s paying attention to smaller opportunities as well, according to Zukowski. “That is one thing we have learned from our NCAA partnership. It’s about engaging dealers and local markets that are football crazy.”

Zukowski also expects social media to play a big part in promotions, especially with NFL-based branding. “Those numbers are huge; broadly, we have our team and agency working with the NFL to flesh out some of the unique ways to go to market with this that give us the right look and feel, and access to different audiences,” he said.

Hyundai’s promotional push will officially start with the NFL Kickoff on September 10th, which should have an outreach of over 188 million fans of the football league.

However, that isn’t stopping it from focusing on pro football – it’s signed a deal to continue being a key sponsor with the NCAA college football league as well. “The big picture it helps us gain consideration, awareness and familiarity,” said Zukowski. “We have grown dramatically over the last five or six years, but the gap still remains between us and key Japanese and domestic competitors. Next February, we are 30 years old in this market, but the Japanese brands are 50 and domestics are 100. This accelerates our opportunity to close that gap.”

So heads up, football fans. Hyundai is ready to play ball.